The Vatican II Awards were established in 1991 to honor men, women and young adults who exemplify the Catholic Church’s vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council. These individuals have been selected by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to be recognized for their service to the Body of Christ in southeastern Wisconsin. While an awards ceremony is typically held annually in October, this year’s festivities are postponed until such a time as it is safe to gather such a large group.
Service to the Priesthood — Fr. James Volkert
It was the influence of joyful priests at his home parish of Mary Queen of Heaven in West Allis that made Fr. Jim Volkert first consider a vocation to the priesthood.
“We always had great parish priests. They were happy guys,” Fr. Volkert told the Catholic Herald in 2017. “In grade school, they would come in the classrooms, which made me think, ‘Maybe I would like to do that someday. I would like to be like that.’”
It was while completing his undergraduate degree at Marquette University that the idea really took hold. “I remember thinking that I would apply, and if I was accepted, fine, and if not, that would be fine, too – then, I’d realize what God was calling me to,” he said. “It was February of my senior year at Marquette University when I was accepted.”
Fr. Volkert was ordained to the priesthood May 18, 1990. He began his priestly service as the associate pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Mary in Burlington and, in 1995, moved to St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee to fill that same role, taking on the job of temporary administrator the following year. In 1997, he was brought to St. Francis Xavier Parish in Brighton to serve as administrator, and he would later take on the pastorship of that parish as well as St. John the Baptist Parish in Paris, Wisconsin. He served as the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Waukesha from 2005-09, when he returned to Burlington to be the administrator and later the pastor of Immaculate Conception. In 2012, he added the part-time duties of director of worship and liturgical formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary to his plate, but declined to make the position full time — his connection to being a parish priest was still too great, he said.
“I was grateful to have that opportunity, because I met and got to know the guys who are now my brother priests,” he said. “It was a great blessing, and reassured me about the future of our priests in the diocese. These are wonderful men. But, as I got into it, I couldn’t picture myself doing that full-time. I need to have the life of the parish to sustain and support me.”
In 2014, he became the shared pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Charles Borromeo in Burlington and St. Joseph in nearby Lyons.
Returning to the parish where his priestly ministry began has highlighted some changes that have taken place in the local Church over the years, Fr. Volkert told the Catholic Herald.
“A big difference is the priest presence There were two priests at St. Mary’s (in 1995), there was a full-time priest at St. Charles and a full-time priest at St. Joe’s in Lyons,” he said. “Now, there are two of us for those three parishes.”
Fr. Volkert has also served on the board of directors of Catholic Memorial High School and on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Priest Placement Board.
“One of the faculty at the seminary told me you have to take people where they’re at,” said Fr. Volkert. “Always start with taking people where they’re at. It doesn’t mean you don’t challenge them to be better, or to improve, but you have got to start where they are.”